financial policy: Scholarships for athletes
Times, presidents of most universities are quick to remind students, are tough. Most school’s endowments are reduced in value, individual donors are cash-strapped, and the government and banks alike are less willing and/or able to extend student loans. Yet an entire class of student at many schools is attending the institution, often free of charge or at a greatly reduced rate. How is this possible? Of course, the answer is student athletes. And not just any student athlete — coveted full athletic scholarships are often only for an elite few, usually those in the ‘money’ or spectator sports with a historically long legacy of support and alumni enthusiasm at the school.
The argument for scholarships for student athletes is as thus: watching basketball or football (or in some schools, hockey) draws the student body together. It creates a community, and also draws in more high-quality applications as prospective students vie for participation in that community. That is the appeal of a ‘big ten school,’ after all. Alumni donate to the school when the teams are doing well. Name-recognition of the school is enhanced. Some might even cite the cherished ideal of the ‘well-rounded’ student, excelling in classes and on the courts.
However, the graduation rate of many student athletes is dismal, and of those who do graduate, their degrees are often compromised by easier classes and time spent away from the classroom. Students are treated as athletes, not as students, which may make for a more competitive state of play — but this competition only creates an incentive to overlook academics for the sake of sports ability, as the Division I schools must compete with schools who do the same. Bad policies and behavior creates more bad policies and behaviors in one’s ‘competition.’ Alumni and students may want entertainment, but the school ends up siphoning money into programs that could produce the next novelist, financial wizard, or scientist — who might also be willing to donate money to the institution. Although some students may undoubtedly apply to schools because they enjoy watching basketball or football, would not the lure of academic scholarships and more evenly distributed financial aid also be an incentive? As the financial climate worsens, resentment of the money student athletes receive in scholarship money may also act as a deterrent rather than an incentive for good students to apply.
Student athletes do not even necessarily ‘give back’ to the university with four years of attendance. Basketball players flee the ranks to ‘go pro’ and even those who do not go to the NBA may struggle and not emerge with a degree. What students are likely to show greater financial long-term loyalty to their university — a student who excels academically and remembers college as the best years of his or her life? Or a student who does not graduate and sees college a stepping-stone to a professional sports career or simply as a place that discarded him or her because a sports career did not materialize as promised?
Coaches and athletic programs also receive huge salaries, because of the attention that is diverted to sports, funds that could be better spent in other areas. Lately, many prominent coaches have been drawing negative publicity for their actions, which only serves to sully the reputation of the university. Northeastern University was placed on probation for two years “and had its scholarships and recruiting privileges reduced because of violations in its men’s basketball program,” according to the Associated Press in 2009. The University of Connecticut has also come under fire for illegal contacts and perks it extended to a prospective recruit.
College students are often told to ‘get their priorities in order’ and ‘grow up’ in terms of placing academics over play. It is time their institutions do the same and channel the funding it infuses into sports programs into helping students who are poor, bright, and focused upon using the university’s resources of knowledge. All work and no fun makes ‘Jack a dull boy,’ but sports at the collegiate level should be just that — fun and healthy — and not regarded as an industry, making money off of students who would not be academically competitive at the school otherwise. Given scarce resources, the opportunity cost is too great to spend so much money on athletics — good students are lost, and alumni that care are lost, because their potential scholarships and places at the university go to others, who prefer the court to the campus.
“Northeastern men’s basketball program is penalized.” (2009, April 25). Associated Press.
Retrieved April 25, 2009 at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gH3G3UvplzEvznYa46AVkBUEWuAwD97PA4580
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